Our school’s kindergarten through second-grade recess is insane, and I love every minute of it. Students running, throwing, jumping, kicking, and getting in quarrels all the time. Yes, you are correct, I did mention the high volume of quarrels that happen within recess and my anticipation of helping supervise this time once a week. This recess block produces more fights, disagreements, hurt feelings, and opportunities for pain per minute than any other time block within the school day. I do not mention my affinity for recess due to the fact that I grab some coffee and sit back and watch the firework show develop. Rather, I recognize the huge influence that I can have during this space with so many opportunities to encourage and help students grow.
As classical Christian educators, we see school with the unique perspective that school is much more about formation than the acquisition of information. Recess in a simple way can be seen as only a place to get the “wiggles” out of students, that they may return with less energy, ready to focus intellectually on the tasks at hand. This is a narrow view of recess in my estimation. First Timothy 4:8 states that “for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (ESV). The training and formation of students to be more like Christ on the playground must be extended to a priority much like it is given in every other area of the school. This is a space in which students run and interact with more freedom in the day than any other place, and how do these young students often deal with that freedom? Through arguing over the rules of the imagined soccer game or the disagreement on who and how long someone should be on the swings. These conversations that are brought to the supervisor are ready-made opportunities to help form students’ hearts and train them in godliness.
The steady encouragement of the Matthew 18 principle of dealing with sin on the playground to students is worth far more than the uncapping of wiggles. Douglas Wilson remarks regarding this similar viewpoint when speaking about athletics saying, “if the athletic program is not helping the kids understand God, man, sin, and salvation, then the program is failing, regardless of the win/loss record. But the same thing is true of the ‘classroom program’. The point of everything is discipleship. The point of everything we do is the high calling of following Christ.” This same thing could be said exactly of recess. Formation of our students’ hearts to look more like Christ should be the intention, even in the often forgotten place of recess.
So how should this change us as we enter supervision of recess? A change of perspective can greatly influence our purpose and action. As we are reminded of the opportunity of formation during those small disagreements, may we intentionally go to recess with a safety first mentality, closely followed by an openness to the opportunity of having many small heart-forming conversations through the chaos of the playground! May we be reminded of the keen wisdom of Tedd Tripp when he mentions that “Children will be good decision makers as they observe faithful parents modeling and instructing wise direction and decision making on their behalf.”
Douglas Wilson, The Case for Classical Christian Education (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2003), 165-166.
Tedd Tripp, Shepherding a Child’s Heart (Wapwallopen, PA: Shepherd Press, 2005), 31.